Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
By any objective measure, Ohio Stadium remains one of college football's least hospitable venues for visiting teams.
Ohio State is 39-4 on its home field since 2003, the fourth best winning percentage in the country and easily the best in the Big Ten. Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel owns a 24-1 record against nonconference games at home. More than 105,000 fans routinely flock to the banks of the Olentangy River, providing Ohio State one of the best home-field advantages in all of college sports.
But as No. 3 USC prepares to visit Columbus on Saturday night (ESPN, 8 p.m.), The Shoe could use a little polish. So could Ohio State's performance in big nonconference games.
Ohio State has stumbled at home in three of the last four years, and three of its four home losses since 2003 have come against top 15 opponents (Wisconsin, Texas, Penn State). Beginning with the 2006 BCS title game, Ohio State has dropped five consecutive games against top 5 teams, including three by 14 points or more.
"We talked about it to a certain extent," senior defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "We lost a couple big bowl games and the game against [USC] last year, so it’s in our minds about these huge games.
"But it's a new year."
A new year has been the rallying cry for both Ohio State and the Big Ten, which needs to repair a damaged national reputation. Since Penn State might not play a ranked team until November, Ohio State's performance against USC will shape Big Ten perception for much of the fall.
While pundits belabor the Buckeyes' big-game struggles, head coach Jim Tressel isn't planning to bring up the subject this week because, quite frankly, most of his players can't relate.
"We’ve got so many guys who haven’t played in those games," Tressel said. "That’s not a vantage point that resonates with them. We focus primarily on, ‘Here’s who we are and here’s the things that we have to do within the confines of our offense and defense and special teams and so forth. If we can do those successfully, we’ll have a chance to be victorious.'
"Sometimes, if you start talking about history, those that can’t feel it, I’m not sure you’re gaining much with that.”
The Big Ten's recent history against USC can be felt from State College to Champaign. And it doesn't feel good.
USC owns a nine-game win streak against the Big Ten, stretching back to 1996. Eight of those losses have come by 14 points or more, including each of the last seven.
The good news for Ohio State is the league's last eight losses to USC took place on the road or at neutral sites. USC hasn't won on Big Ten soil since crushing Illinois 55-3 in 1996. Then again, the Trojans aren't afraid of the road.
Could 105,000 plus decked out in scarlet change USC's road fortunes?
"The fans are going to be there; they’re going to be loud and [they'll] be behind us," Ohio State running back Dan Herron said. "But this game is going to be extremely crazy. People want to see us beat USC and we’re going to do all we can.”
Tressel expects an electric atmosphere Saturday night, but he knows Ohio State's 12th man can only be a factor if the 11 on the field are doing their jobs.
"If we start counting on the crowd to make a difference for us, we’re looking at the wrong things," he said. "What’s going to be most important is how well we block and tackle and throw and catch and defend. But there’s something special about playing at home. There’s something special about playing on the national stage. Every one of us is excited to do that."